By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
PARIS, Jan. 8 -- To hear French President Nicolas Sarkozy tell it, he's just an ordinary guy caught up in romance. "The love life of a president is like the love life of anyone," Europe's most prominent bachelor declared Tuesday.
Except that 650 journalists turn up to hear your musings, your girlfriend is an ex-supermodel-turned-singer, and a newspaper announces the supposed wedding date. It's to be Feb. 8 or 9, according to the weekly Journal du Dimanche.
"There's a strong chance that you will learn about it after it's already done," Sarkozy said as hand-painted cupids peeked down from the ceiling of the Elysee Palace's glittering, chandeliered salon. "It isn't the Journal du Dimanche that will set the date."
When a journalist asked if he'd already tied the knot with Carla Bruni, 40, his girlfriend of two months, Sarkozy, 52, raised his left hand and waggled his ringless fingers.
But he said of the relationship, "It's serious."
With that, Sarkozy offered the gossip-greedy public and voracious press pack a further glimpse into the love life of a modern, recently divorced bachelor-president. "I do not want to lie about this," he said. "I decided to depart from a miserable habit in political life, a habit of lies and deception."
Sarkozy didn't mention names, but he went on to criticize someone who could only be the late former president Fran¿ois Mitterrand, who tried to keep a mistress and their daughter secret for most of his 1981-1995 presidency.
But some people have suggested they'd prefer a bit of discretion. Sarkozy has been accused in the French news media and by some members of the French public of flaunting the relationship before eager paparazzi and for leaping into a new love affair just a month after divorcing his second wife, C¿cilia.
The first couple's official coming-out was a pre-Christmas trip to Disneyland Paris, where the cameras whirred on motor-drive. Just over a week later, newspapers and glossy magazines were filled with crisp, clear shots of the pair on a romantic Christmas jaunt to Egypt: Bruni nuzzling Sarkozy's back and snuggling on his chest, Sarkozy caressing her exposed midriff.
No grainy, fuzzy, long-lens snapshots were to be found. "I didn't want my picture taken secretly at the crack of dawn or at dusk," Sarkozy told journalists.
When one reporter suggested that Sarkozy had turned his relationship into a media circus, the president snapped back, "If you don't want this to be a media show, then don't send photographers."
It's not the first time Sarkozy has bared his personal life for the cameras. During his campaign for the presidency, he became the first French candidate for the office to allow news photographers into his home, American-style, for a magazine photo spread. It featured him, C¿cilia and their young son.
But when the popular celebrity magazine Paris Match later published a cover shot of C¿cilia hand-in-hand with an alleged lover, a furious Sarkozy accused the magazine of intruding into their personal life and pressured its owner into firing the editor, according to French news reports.
As to critics' claims that presidential duties are taking a back seat to the presidential love life, Sarkozy's political associates have rushed to his defense.
"I believe that a happy president -- and I was about to say a president in love -- is a president that has without a doubt more of a bounce in his step and will be more energetic and efficient in fulfilling his duties," Education Minister Xavier Darcos said in an interview on LCI television.
"The French people will have to get used to modernity," he said. "There is nothing more natural than to show ourselves as we are, to be transparent, open -- as you would expect a modern couple to be."
Researcher Corinne Gavard contributed to this report.